Monday, August 30, 2010


I have a pre-paid cell phone that costs me $15 a month and I'm thinking that the reason it's so cheap is that my provider sells my number to... everybody. I get more garbage phone calls on it than I have ever had on any phone. In spite of the fact that I owe no one a dime (except the library... oops!), I get three or four debt-collectors (looking for Brian or Stephen, whoever they are) threatening me every day! (Well, they would if I still picked up.)

Maybe you're not as stingy as I am and you pay your cell service to block junk calls; still, your computer isn't safe. I bet you've had e-mails from foreign dignitaries down on their luck and looking for a place to park their multi-millions. They'll pay you an enormous fee if you'll agree to babysit their fortunes just until the heat is off. All they need are your bank account and social security numbers. I've had letters from deposed princesses, heads of large corporations on the lam, dames and earls, and not a one of them can figure out how to open a checking account without my help. It's no wonder they're in trouble.

There's no better advice for dealing with scammers than this: just hang up or delete! But if you want information of greater depth, the library has books on the subject. Here are some of them:
And if you're bent on revenge, here are a couple of fun extra-library sites:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Community Supported Agricultrue

I recently finished a book titled Seasons on Henry's Farm by Terra Brockman and it was lovely. Brockman lives on her brother, Henry's, farm where she and other family members work diligently to provide fresh, organically grown produce to a farmer's market and CSA in Illinois. The CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, program involves local residents purchasing a share of the farm: they make an investment up front and then receive weekly shares of the farm's harvest. By investing in the CSA, residents invest in a sustainable farm and express their commitment to local foods for the sake of our environment and our taste buds.

Reading about the difficult work Brockman and her tight-knit family do every day to keep up with the harvest and farm chores coupled with the long dawn til dusk (and sometimes much later) days gave me a new respect for local farms. The work sounds almost brutal at times, but Brockman and her family approach their chores with an enlightened sense of purpose. Her prose is elegant and graceful as she describes a full year, week-by-week, of life on the farm, while revealing a rich history of family farmers and an intense appreciation for and celebration of the natural world. Farming is truly a labor of love for Brokman and her family making it a beautiful thing to read about it.

There are a number of CSAs serving the Austin area that anyone can join - a few, in fact, are taking new members right now:

A farm in Seguin. This one delivers to Austin locations as well as surrounding towns like Round Rock and Georgetown.

Green Gate Farms
Located in East Austin and currently taking new CSA members for the Fall.

Johnson's Backyard Garden
Located in East Austin, this one is currently accepting new CSA members and has a very large number of pickup locations and days/times.

Scott Arbor
Located in Seguin.

Urban Patchwork Neighborhood Farms
A community organization of small farms in Austin providing a CSA that is currently accepting members for the fall.

If you're interested in CSAs and farming, you might be interested in these books:

Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty

Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat

Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas: Profiles of Organic Farmers and Ranchers Across the State

Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen's Guide to Community Supported Agriculture

The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Was that a butterfly?

I always feel like I can't never get enough of butterflies. They just go so fast that I get this feeling that I’ve seen something beautiful but I cannot tell exactly how it looks. I can talk about its colors in general but that’s it! No details of the shape of the wings or anything else. On two different occasions I’ve been lucky enough to see the gorgeous Morpho butterfly in Costa Rica: you can only see this metallic blue flash going around, so it is hard to believe it is a butterfly. Amazing!!

Butterflies inside of a cage hanging on the wall are not appealing to me. That’s the best moment to see all their magnificent colors, but the magic is lost. The sense that this gorgeous creature is going to fly away and the urge to enjoy their beauty as fast as you can is gone. But, that’s just me, of course.

Of all the butterflies in the world perhaps the most well known are the Monarchs that migrate very long distances. Because the distance traveled is longer than their lifespan, in some cases the migration includes two or three generations of butterflies. They are indeed amazing creatures.

If you are a fan of butterflies and want to attract them to your garden you are going to need the right plants for that. Texas A&M University has information on how to do this and you can also find more information on this topic at your library:

Monday, August 23, 2010


Have you seen the TV shows about people who hoard stuff? Some of them buy second homes to live in after packing their first with stuff and then start filling up the second? One family moved into a tent in their front yard to escape the bugs living in the junk in the house! It's a fascinating disorder because we all can understand it. We want bigger closets and we rent storage lockers and we put off cleaning out our garages. It makes sense to save things we might need later, until saving them becomes more trouble than getting them again.

If the houses in the hoarding shows look familiar to you, here are some books at APL that might help you to understand why:

Digging Out
Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding
Buried in Treasures

If all you need to do is tackle clutter, we can help you there, too:

Christopher Lowell's Seven Layers of Organization
Throw Out Fifty Things
Clutter Busting

And if you want to get into the organizing biz, you're lucky to live in Austin. The headquarters of the national organization is here:
National Association of Professional Organizers

(The photo is of the house of Homer and Langley Collyer, brothers who died in 1947 in their New York City brownstone under tons of trash.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Today's "Grapes of Wrath"

Nobody would deny that times are tough. The poor economic climate is bound to have an impact on books and publishing - and, more specifically, on fiction - as it does on just about every other aspect of life. Looking at the titles below, you may be surprised at how many novelists are creating a literary record of the decade's economic woes, just as John Steinbeck did with his Grapes of Wrath.

American Rust by Phiipp Meyer
Set in a moribund Pennsylvania steel town, this bleak but skillful novel deals with what happens to us when our dreams are shattered, when all that is left is the people we really are, without comfort of daily routine or the promise of a paycheck.

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell
These short stories are full of characters who know how to fix cars and washing machines, how to shoot and clean game, and how to cook up methamphetamine, but they have not figured out how to prosper in the twenty-first century.

The Hole We’re In by Gabrielle Zevin
Novel chronicles families battered by the recession, unemployment and debt, or minimum-wage jobs.

Dream House by Valerie Laken
A classic money pit scenario offers insights into the fragility of home, family and neighborhood.

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
Funny, heartrending novel is a parable of marriage and money troubles in which a well-meaning family man makes decisions that are seriously stupid but entertaining.

Model Home by Eric Puchner
Travails of a family as they literally lose everything, and finally must move into a failed real estate development in the desert.

This Is Where We Live by Janelle Brown
A novel about subprime mortgages, ruthless Hollywood economics, and the unraveling of a young marriage.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Hitch

Christopher Hitchens had a strange June. His long-anticipated memoir, Hitch-22, hit libraries and bookstores. Within mere days of the memoir’s publication he was informed he has esophageal cancer, which subsequently reached his lymph nodes. Never one to shy away, Hitchens wrote a compelling piece, “Topic of Cancer” in September’s Vanity Fair, depicting his early struggles with chemotherapy. The piece wonderfully expresses the plurality of responding to cancer: fear, resilience, and vulnerability coexist for Hitchens as he continues treatment and sense-making.

Christopher Hitchens polarizes. His writings meld thought and disparate ideologies more eloquently and frustratingly than any writer I have read. The nimbleness of his writing and evolving beliefs reflect Bertrand Russell’s maxim: “I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.” Some might consider this assertion a sign of weakness. Hitchens’ career conveys the beauty within the assertion. His beliefs evolved as he aged. He constantly challenged his beliefs and made adjustments as he determined worthy. Whether you find Hitchens to be a buffoon or a genius, he has remained committed to mental engagement throughout his career. He is infuriating and prescient. Funny and provocative. If only we had more writers like him.

I wish Christopher Hitchens health and I look forward to his further chronicles of treatment.

Below are some of my favorite works by Christopher Hitchens.


Thomas Jefferson: Author of America

Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays

A Long Short War: the Postponed Liberation of Iraq

Letters to a Young Contrarian

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bix Beiderbecke

This entry is about a place as much as it is about a person. My original intent was to write about a jazz musician who was highly influential and revered amongst other top players of his generation but remained unknown to the public at large during his life time. As I was digging into this musician's back ground using the libray's catalog and print resources, it dawned on me how great it was that my local library collected, stored, and loaned out not only resources in a wide variety of formats free of change, and had services in place to assist me in getting other materials on my chosen subject such as interlibrary loan and electronic databases, but that a librarian had taken the time to single out and acquire specific choice items for my study and enjoyment. It was all so effortless because many people had already done all of the heavy lifting for me.

That being said, Bix Beiderbecke is considered by some to be the originator of cool jazz. The more I read about his style of playing, the more I am reminded of Miles Davis. Miles Davis would have been five years old at the time of Bix Beiderbecke's death in 1931. Bix, on the other hand, was only 28 when he died of chronic ill health and alcoholism. At a time when jazz musicians were setting the band stand ablaze by blasting out a flurry of notes coupled with flashy, complicated phrasing, Bix Beiderbecke was hanging back, playing fewer notes, and intoning his music with a feeling of introspection and playing it with a precision akin to that of the music of Debussy.

Friday, August 13, 2010

T. rex Sue

On August 12, 1990 Sue Hendrickson, a paleontologist, discovered the "largest, most complete, best preserved" Tyranosaurus Rex skeleton known to the world. This T. rex is 40.5 feet in length, her skeleton weighs 3,922 pounds, and she is estimated to be 67 million years old. It is extremely well-preserved and has contributed to the advancement of our knowledge about the T. rex. She is named Sue, after her discoverer, and she is on display at the Field Museum in Chicago, IL.

Her tremendous size is really just a small part of Sue's story. A court battle lasting 5 years over who owned Sue and her subsequent $8.36 million dollar sale price from Southeby's grabbed headlines years ago. Hendrickson and her colleagues found Sue's bones by chance on the outskirts of a dig they were doing for Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. However, the land on which they discovered Sue actually belonged to a Native American tribe member who later said he had not given permission to Hendrickson's team to keep the fossil they had found and claimed ownership to it. Because the property was ultimately in the trust of the United States government as it is located on a Sioux Reservation, the federal government as well as the Sioux tribe were also laying claims to Sue. The bones were housed at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology during the long, highly publicized trial until ownership of the bones was awarded to the land owner. The land owner then decided to sale the skeleton at a public auction at Sotheby's.

The Field Museum wanted to put Sue on display for all to see. With the cooperation of several private donors, including Walt Disney World Resort and McDonald's Corporation, Sue was purchased from Sotheby's for the enormous sum of over $8 million dollars. And, lucky for us, Sue is on display for the world.

Read more about how Sue may have died, why she is so well-preserved, and some of the fascinating discoveries that have been made since the fossil was found.


Rex Appeal: The Amazing Story of Sue, the Dinosaur that Changed Science, the Law, and My Life

Tyrannosaurus Sue: The Extraordinary Saga of the Largest, Most Fought Over T. Rex Ever Found


Get the Inside Scoop on Sue
The story of Sue from the Field Museum's website

Mighty T. rex Killed by Pigeon Parasite?

Paleontologists Assess T. rex Sue's Pathologies
Sue suffered from many of the same afflictions animals of today are faced with.

Sue on Facebook

Sue Pays Off For Field Museum

This Day in History: Skeleton of Tyrannosaurus Rex Discovered
From the History Channel

View the Many Sides of Sue
Photo galleries, videos and much more from the Field Musuem

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

To Serve Man

My sister bought me a Roomba for my birthday. The name of the company that makes it is iRobot, and Roomba is a robot, all right. It talks, it makes decisions, and it can get itself out of a tight spot (although it has trouble if it's squeezed horizontally--if there isn't enough clearance under the couch, for instance). It runs on a battery that charges on a docking station. There are two metal plates in the bottom of the Roomba that connect with two metal plates on the dock. I was holding the Roomba and aiming to place it perfectly for its first charge when it wriggled in my hands like a poodle! Like it was saying, "Oh just let me do it!". So I let it go and it lined up the connection by itself!

The Roomba is a neat robot, but it's not a heavy-duty vacuum. It couldn't handle the shed hair of my five dogs, so a couple of days after I got it I took it back to the store. I felt sorry for it as I re-packed it in its box. After all, it had tried its best to please me. When the clerk took it out of my hands, I felt like I was leaving a dog at the pound.

We may not have reached the point where we each get a jet pack, but you can have your own robot right now if you want it. To prepare yourself for a mechanical companion, read these books:

Monday, August 09, 2010

Daniel Schorr

I was a child when Daniel Schorr cut his teeth as a seminal and uncompromising journalist. His fearlessness in covering the Watergate debacle of the Nixon presidency earned him meritorious praise from colleagues as well as the ire of certain network television executives and powerful political figures. Daniel Schorr passed away recently at the grand age of 93. His powers of perception, journalist's instincts, and intellectual prowess remained razor sharp to the very end. His voice had been a consistent part of my life since at least the late eighties and I will miss it.

Come to Think of It: Notes on the End on the Millennium

Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism

Clearing the Air

Friday, August 06, 2010

Kashmir - Paradise Shattered

Kashmir has been in the news a lot lately – the political unrest and the flooding, Kashmir, which was the inspiration for James Hilton’s Shangri-La in Lost Horizon ,was created as a result of the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Kashmir's political problems date back to the 1947 partition, when Pakistan was carved out as a home for Indian Muslims. Kashmir was divided -- and remains divided -- between the two countries. India claims that Muslim-dominated Kashmir is an integral part of the country. Pakistan sees Kashmir as simply an unfinished task of partition. Most Kashmiris would like to be left alone by both sides. Sixty percent of its roughly 10 million residents are Muslim, the remaining 40 percent are Hindu. Estimates vary, but anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 people have been killed during the conflict. Both sides have committed widespread human rights abuses, creating an environment of fear and distrust.

In the 2005 novel that's set in Kashmir, Shalimar the Clown, by Salman Rushdie, the author's epigraph is “a plague on the both their houses”, referring to India and Pakistan. Salman Rushdie's grandparents, on his mother's side, were born and raised in Kashmir. He and his siblings spent their summers there. To Rushdi, Kashmir is paradise on earth, with its unique combination of intense physical beauty - lush valleys, majestic Himalayas - and a history of tolerance among Hindi,, Muslim and Sikh. But India and Pakistan have trampled over this culture of tolerance. Shalimar the Clown is a tragic love story between a Muslim and Hindi, and a history of Kashmir. A claustrophobic marriage causes a young woman to leave her husband, which begins the transformation of a gentle young man into a ruthless murderer, but the tragedy of Kashmir also contributes to his downfall. The Library has over 20 copies of the book, with just one copy checked out, so there are plenty to go around.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Harold Lloyd

I know you might be a big fan of Charles Chaplin or Buster Keaton, and you might think that they are the best silent movies actors. I, on the other hand, think that the best, the most creative and charismatic, was Harold Lloyd - sorry for disagreeing!

His character, a guy wearing a straw hat and horn-rimmed glasses, was a vivid representation of a man from that period of time. He wasn’t a super hero, or a tramp, he was just a man going through life with confidence and a very optimistic attitude. Most of his movies show important innovations on the use of the camera. An example is the famous scene of him hanging from a clock high up in a tower. With a good angle from the camera, he makes us cringe in our seats with a feeling of vertigo, making us believe there was nothing under his feet. This scene was very dangerous to shoot since he was so close to the edge of the building's roof where he was standing, but he kept on going with the shooting, as he did with many other dangerous scenes in his movies. He did all of his own stunts. He also used a test audience to preview his movies to see which parts were good, which ones needed to be redone, and then tested them again, a technique not used by others at that time.

His film Girl Shy is considered the first romantic comedy in the history of film, and his movie Safety Last is considered by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 most thrilling movies. So, if you are ready for the adventure of watching his movies, Austin Public Library can help you with that:

Monday, August 02, 2010

Moss Hart

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart

It's probably not a good idea to confess this on my employer's blog, but now and then I call in late so I can finish a book. It doesn't happen often. Even with the welter of books published these days, one that I literally cannot put down is rare. But I found one the other day, and I couldn't get to the end in time for work, so I called in late. I had to finish Moss Hart's autobiography, Act One.

Hart wrote and/or directed You Can't Take it with You, The Man Who Came to Dinner, A Star is Born, and My Fair Lady, but you won't hear much about those smashing successes in his book. Act One is about Hart's early years and his struggle out of poverty; about his working without food, sleep, encouragement, and sometimes pay, until he'd made a place for himself in New York theater.

Hart spent summers at holiday camps in the Catskills working as a social director so that he could spend winters writing plays. Six winters, six plays, six rejections. As the seventh winter began, taking up his regular writing spot on the beach (it was quieter than his parents' house in the Bronx), Hart shuffled through last winter's rejection slips. On one of them was written some advice: the funny parts are good; why don't you try comedy?

The second half of Act One is the story of the herculean work that went into writing, selling, and staging that comedy, the Kaufman/Hart play Once in a Lifetime. Hart tells how the play evolves, from first draft through rewrites, through out-of-town runs and rewrites, through hope and despair and more rewrites, and failure and rewrites and another chance and rewrites and last-minute rewrites, to opening night on Broadway.

The story is as funny, entertaining, and suspenseful as any I've read, and Hart has important things to say about hard work and perserverance and luck. A well-written book about showbiz is a rare thing. The critics loved Act One when it came out in 1959 and it holds up today. If you liked Russell Baker's Growing Up, put Moss Hart's Act One on your reading list.

Kitty: An Autobiography by Kitty Carlisle Hart (Mrs. Moss)